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What is Hotaru Glass and Hotaru Beads? The meaning and effect? How to make? All the answers.

hotaru firefly at night

Not only the general public, but even retailers often misunderstand it, so the glass artist Takashi will explain it properly!

classic lamp work glass beads

1. Hotaru beads are a kind of Lamp work glass beads. (burner work)

Melting glass to make beads has been popular in ancient Europe for thousands of years. In Japan, glass beads have been found in ancient tombs from the Jomon and Yayoi periods (BC15,000-AD250).

The technique of winding molten glass around a metal rod to make beads is said to have been introduced to Japan during the Nara period (AD710-794). The bead pattern, which was popular in the Edo period, looked like the eyes of a dragonfly, so it came to be called "Tonbo Dama (dragonfly ball bead)".

When silver foil is put inside while the Tonbo dama (dragonfly bead) is being fired, it will become a Hotaru dama (firefly bead).

hotaru glass accessory by StudioWAZA

In recent years, it has become common to call Hotaru dama of various shapes and colors collectively as "Hotaru Glass". I think it's probably for marketing purpose. It might be easier to understand what it is to call it "Hotaru Glass" rather than "Hotaru dama".

On the other hand, I don't think "Tombo dama" will be commonly called "Tombo Glass". It sounds a bit strange in Japanese and the name itself has a long history, so we feel like leaving it as it is.


2. A Lamp Work Bead with silver foil (leaf) inside is called a Hotaru Bead (Firefly Ball).

I repeat since this is important. When silver foil is put inside while the Tonbo dama (dragonfly bead) is being fired, it will become a Hotaru dama (firefly bead).

Furthermore, when grains of phosphorescent material are added, it becomes a Hotaru bead called a luminous type (glow in the dark type).

What is important here is that all the Hotaru beads are real Hotaru beads as long as they contain silver foil inside, regardless of whether they are luminous type or not.

My shops clearly state whether they are phosphorescent type or not, so there has never been a misunderstanding. However, I have seen many times in the reviews of other shops written by buyers who mistakenly said, "What I bought was a fake which does not glow in the dark."

hotaru glass yakou type

Both the seller and the buyer are responsible for the misunderstanding that all Hotaru beads glow in the dark. Readers here will not be misled. Please choose carefully whether you fancy a non glow type or a phosphorescent type, and enjoy shopping.

Aside, Tonbo dama beads with gold leaf are also made all over the world, but I have never seen anyone or a shop calling them Hotaru dama beads.

3. Hotaru Bead is not Ryukyu glass and is not original to Okinawa.

Hotaru bead is a kind of Tonbo bead (Lamp work bead), and lamp work bead has thousands of years of history. The scale of the times is different from that of Ryukyu glass, which began in the Meiji era(AD1868-1912) and flourished after the war. Calling Hotaru bead a kind of Ryukyu glass feels a little strange, like calling rice ball a kind of sushi.

Unfortunately, Hotaru beads (Hotaru glass) are not original to Okinawa.

Hotaru beads have a long global history. Since around 1470, Hotaru beads with silver foil have been officially sold in Venice. It is wrong to say that Okinawa is the birthplace of Hotaru beads even though the production of Hotaru beads has been confirmed for such a long time.

It would be great if it was really Okinawa original but it's certainly not.

glass art

Tourism in Okinawa became popular in the 1980s, and glasswork souvenirs for tourists began to be made. Hotaru bead is a fairly new item among the souvenirs.

In fact, most of the glass rods for making lamp work beads distributed in Japan are manufactured and sold by two companies in Osaka. A glass artist from one of those companies was already making Hotaru beads in Osaka more than 50 years ago.

Pursuing where the Hotaru beads, a traditional glass craft, was invented is not very meaningful unless you are a history major. The history is so old that I can only assume vaguely that it must have been somewhere in Europe.

The claim that “Okinawa is the original! Unique!” sounds good as an advertising slogan, but it is not true. Hotaru beads were made in Venice when Okinawa was not even part of Japan and before the previous kingdom called Ryukyu was about to be established.

Japanese tonbo beads
Japanese lamp work beads and glass rods (by Takashi Hirose)

4. There are no "fake" Hotaru Beads. What people should care about is the quality.

I'm going to repeat this again. All glass beads with silver foil inside are genuine Hotaru beads (firefly beads) and are glass crafts. It doesn't matter when, where or by whom it was made.

After all, the most important thing for the buyer is the quality of Hotaru beads. This is common to many clothing and jewelry materials such as silk, leather products, and diamonds.

Hotaru beads are perfect for the atmosphere of Okinawa. The fact that it is popular with tourists and sells a lot means that the glass artists who make it gather in the region.

hotal glass traditional accessory
Hotaru Glass Kimono Jewelry by Takashi Hirose

In fact, I think that the main island of Okinawa has the largest number of artists making Hotaru beads in Japan. Therefore, high-quality Hotaru beads are available in Okinawa. Because I loves Okinawa so much, I buy Hotaru beads through a long-established jewelry store on Naha Kokusai Street in Okinawa.

I pray for the further success of Okinawan glass crafts, and I decided to purchase from Okinawan shop to show my support. Also, the Osaka Tonbo beads I make and the Hotaru beads have a completely different atmosphere, so it's a lot of fun to handle both for my jewelry making.

5. It has nothing to do with the natural stone fluorite which is called "Firefly Stone" in Japanese.

Many shops sell them with various names such as Ryukyu Firefly Stone, Okinawa Fluorite, Power Stone, etc. However, firefly stone originally refers to natural stone fluorite. And it has nothing to do with the Hotaru bead which is a glass craft. Not even the material.

On personal blogs, some people write fantasies such as "mixing crushed Fluorite to make them glow." Fluorite itself does not have a phosphorescent effect, and if we mix a stone with a different coefficient of heat expansion glass, it will definitely break.

Fluorite necklace by Studio WAZA
Fluorite necklace by Takashi Hirose

If you seek a meaning and effect of a Hotaru bead as a power stone, you should pay attention to the silver that is always included and the color of the Hotaru bead.

Silver is well known as an amulet item. Hotaru beads come in a variety of colors, but blue is the most popular. Blue is believed to have a calming and trusting effect.

In the first place, a good aura is enclosed when a glass artists makes one by one by hand. After all, it is purified by the flame, and the artist who are making it always thinks of the new owner being happy using it.

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